13 San Diego companies make COVID-19 breakthroughs

Dec 16, 2020 - Candela Delucchi and Heather Dewis

This year was unlike anything we could have predicted. While San Diego grappled with change and unimaginable loss brought on by COVID-19, regional scientists and researchers drew on their expertise and our local scientific community to save lives.

These 13 regional companies are just a few of the many teams across the San Diego region that developed and supported COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines this year. A great big San Diego thank-you to:

1. Gilead Sciences

In October, the FDA gave full approval for the first COVID-19 antiviral drug from Gilead Sciences, which has teams in both Foster City and Oceanside. Veklury, also known as remdesivir, has since been used to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the United States.

2. Pfizer

Pfizer, which boasts a major oncology research site in La Jolla, gained FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for its vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Vaccination efforts began rolling out across the world in early December 2020.

3. Quidel Corp.

The FDA granted the first EUA to Quidel’s COVID-19 antigen test. Since then, Quidel has provided its Sofia COVID-19 antigen testing to nursing home communities and partnered with Pac-12 to provide rapid antigen testing for all athletes, including daily tests for high-contact sports like football.

4. Mesa Biotech

Mesa Biotech received FDA EUA for its 30 minute Accula COVID-19 test. Mesa’s rapid testing technology has since been used to clear NFL players for safe gameplay.

5. GenMark Diagnostics

In March, Carlsbad‘s GenMark Diagnostics received FDA EUA for its COVID-19 test, making it among the first to do so. Recently, the company launched a test that can detect 21 respiratory ailments, including COVID-19.

6. Cue Health

This fall, Cue Health was awarded $481 million from the Department of Defense to produce six million fast, portable COVID-19 tests by March 2021. at its new Vista facility The company will scale up to producing 100,000 tests per day, which will be used in nursing homes, clinics, and other medical settings.

In June, the FDA issued an initial EUA for Cue Health’s small, rapid COVID-19 test. The test has since been used in healthcare and business settings, as well as in a successful contract with the NBA for its 2019-2020 season.

Stay tuned: Cue Health will open a second campus in Vista and will add 500 new roles in the new year.

7. Thermo Fisher Scientific

One of two diagnostics companies to initially earn an FDA EUA for its COVID-19 test, Thermo Fisher began shipping COVID-19 tests in mid-March, ramping up to produce five million tests per week through April. Most recently, Thermo Fisher partnered with vaccine developers to support multiple COVID-19 vaccine programs through human clinical trials.

Earlier this year, we spoke to Thermo Fisher vice president John Stevens about the company’s test development efforts in Carlsbad – learn more about San Diego science and regional collaboration.

8. INOVIO Pharmaceuticals

INOVIO Pharmaceuticals was part of a generous year for local biotechs, receiving $71 million from Department of Defense for its vaccine device, $9 million from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, and $5 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund ongoing development of its COVID-19 vaccine. It was the first to advance its DNA vaccine  against MERS CoV, a related coronavirus, into evaluation in humans. Trials for its COVID-19 vaccine are currently underway.

9. Arcturus Therapeutics

Arcturus Therapeutics’ clinical-stage messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine candidate for COVID-19 was selected to advance into later stage global clinical trials.

Earlier this year, we spoke to Arcturus president and CEO Joseph E. Payne about the company’s mRNA vaccine efforts – learn more about San Diego science and regional collaboration.

10. Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute

In an effort to speed up research and development timelines for COVID-19 treatment, Sanford Burnham Prebys was awarded $10 million to test broad-spectrum antivirals to combat COVID-19. Under this award, Dr. Sumit Chanda and his team screened one of the world’s largest drug collections to find compounds that stop the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In May, we spoke to Dr. Sumit Chanda about his efforts – learn more about San Diego science and regional collaboration.

11. Illumina

Illumina recently joined the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics initiative and is offering service to help make COVID-19 testing more widely available. “Real-time next-generation sequencing can, for the first time in history, enable effective contact tracing and outbreak management, and highlight viral changes that could impact diagnostic and vaccine effectiveness,” said Phil Febbo, CMO of Illumina.

Learn more about the ways Illumina is addressing COVID-19 from vice president Gary P. Schroth, Ph.D. at our July panel.

12. Helix

Helix worked to process up to 100,000 COVID-19 tests per day at its San Diego lab, making it one of the highest volume pandemic testing sites in the country. Since Helix’s next-generation sequencing-based test needs less data, the company believed it could more rapidly deliver results at scale.

Learn more about the ways Helix is addressing COVID-19 from co-founder and president James Lu at our July panel.

13. Genentech

Genentech joined forces with Regeneron in the fight against COVID-19 to develop, manufacture, and distribute REGN-COV2, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail, to people around the globe. The treatment could provide much needed relief for people who are already experiencing symptoms, and also holds the potential to prevent infection to those who have been exposed to the virus.


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